Michael J. Martinez Interview
That last time we talked to author Michael J. Martinez he had just released his debut novel, The Daedalus Incident, which introduced us to a dual-universe story full of 18th Century sailing ships in space and ancient Martian warlords. Flash forward only two years and he’s completed the trilogy with The Venusian Gambit, as well as a novella set in the same universe, several other short stories, and is already knee deep in his next SECRET writing project!
Thankfully I nabbed him before he took a well-earned family vacation and he was generous enough to answer a few questions about finishing this tremendous series.
You’ve just released the third book in the Daedalus series, The Venusian Gambit. First of all, how do you feel?
It’s funny, because for me, The Venusian Gambit has been over and done with for months now. I have to remind myself that other folks are experiencing that sort of ending or closure just now, whereas I think I’ve been through all that already. So at the moment, it feels almost like reminiscing about the past. But back when I was wrapping it up, there was certainly some wistfulness. The Daedalus series’ success has opened a lot of doors, and I’m very proud of that story. I miss those characters and that world. But again, that was months ago. As mercenary as it sounds, I’ve kind of moved on already.
We’ve talked previously about how it took you ten years from coming up with the idea to finishing and releasing the first book. Yet two years on you’ve somehow managed to craft two more AND a novella! Were the subsequent stories easier to write once you had the first set in stone or were you simply spurred on by the critical acclaim that it received?
Critical acclaim is really super-nice, and it certainly made it easier to tell the rest of those stories, knowing that I actually had some talent as a novelist. And I doubt I would’ve been given the chance to further the story in the other books had the first bombed. So there’s that. But really, I learned an awful lot writing the first book, The Daedalus Incident, so I think writing The Enceladus Crisis and The Venusian Gambit were easier because I had been there before, and could apply what I learned about the craft of storytelling. Plus, it gave me a chance to think not just about a single story, but about how these characters and these worlds would change. Really, the whole thing has been one giant, virtuous circle.
I’d argue that you have a little more than ‘some’ talent as a novelist – you were obviously a fantastic writer at the outset! But was there anything about the craft you learned along the way, that you were able to bring to the table with Gambit?
Gah, it’s awfully nice for you to say that, but you obviously never saw my first drafts of any of these novels, especially the first one. My experience was in journalism and marketing communications, not fiction. Yes, I think good writing is good writing, but I had to really educate myself on what the craft of fiction was all about, and it was a long, uphill battle. By the time I got to The Venusian Gambit, though, I think I had something of a handle on it. I learned a lot about pacing in an action/adventure book, for one. I learned a great deal about narrative flow, about character arcs. I think those are the things that really came through in book three.
This series has been a masterclass in keeping multiple, dimension-hopping plot threads on track. What’s your secret?
Honestly, it was a little TOO complex – to the point where I’m taking a break for dimension-hopping in my future works in order to play with more of a straightforward narrative! But in all of my novel-length works, I outline in Excel to keep everything straight. I have detailed information on characters, setting, plot, arcs, you name it, so I can visually see how each dimension is interacting and moving forward, and I can figure out when they should come together – and pace things accordingly. I did a blog post on outlining in Excel that may be helpful to anyone interested in the mad alchemy behind it.
Thomas Weatherby is one of my favourite EVER characters. How difficult was it saying goodbye to him? Is there any chance we might get to sail with him again into the Void?
I’m quite proud of Weatherby’s arc, and if anything, I feel like spanning 30 years in just three novels was giving him a bit of short shrift. I know he did a ton of fascinating stuff in between those books. Weatherby had an excellent run, going from green second lieutenant to admiral, and he grew as a person besides. With all that said, though, there are a couple of new things that I’ve been working on that have me quite excited, so I’m afraid Weatherby’s other adventures will remain untold, at least for now. If it’s any consolation, I may feel a touch guilty about that.
Your work now transcends the written word. You’ve got some of the best artwork around for the covers, you’ve got audiobooks – how much of that side of the job do you get involved in?
I have very little to do with the Audible audiobooks beyond advising on pronunciation, but I have to commend the narrators of the Daedalus series for doing a fantastic job. They’ve really brought it to life.
As for the art, that’s something where I’ve had a really nice amount of input, especially on books two and three. I’ve given my editor and our artist, Lauren Saint Onge, ideas on which scenes to depict, then had input on everything from blocking to color to small details. For example, the mech on the cover of The Venusian Gambit is a V-SEV (Venus Surface Exploration Vehicle), and I did a lot of research to get the science behind that right. So it took several go-arounds to create a vehicle that would actually withstand the immense pressures and heat of Venus – even though it ended up on a very different Venus on the cover.
Aside from being a prolific writer, you’re a family man with a day job. How do you juggle the increasing commitments of a 3-time published author with being a husband and parent, and still finding time to write?
I really try my best to be disciplined, and although I can’t write every single day, I do try to write as regularly as possible. That said, I do my best work on vacations and on flights – I travel occasionally for both my day-job and for cons, and I write so amazingly well on airplanes, it’s scary. Seriously, I ought to just take two weeks off, get a multi-flight pass and write; I’d have a full draft done before I went back to work. Anyway, it’s about discipline and priorities. My family comes first, then the job that pays me well, and then the novelist thing. I suppose it helps that I write fast – a former career as an Associated Press journalist helps with the speed.
Speaking of which, after three books and a novella in two years, you could be forgiven for taking a bit of a break from writing. Thankfully you’re not. So what can we expect next?
No, I’m kind of afraid to take a break at this point, because I feel like I’m just getting started and really want to see how far this train will take me. So right now, I’m working on the next big thing, which I can’t talk about until we do a formal announcement, but there is something new coming that I’m incredibly excited about. It’s still historical fantasy, but a very different vibe from the Daedalus series; I’m doing my best to spread my wings a bit, and to do things a bit more nuanced and darker. I’ve also done some short stories of late. I have one in the Cthulhu FhtagnI anthology due out in August, and another in the Unidentified Funny Objects 4 anthology coming this November. Just the fact that I managed to write a Cthulhu story and a humor piece in the same year tickles me to no end.
Once again, huge thanks to Mike for his time. And for those plotter novelists out there, I seriously recommend his blog post on outlining in Excel. Very helpful stuff.